New York Physician Admits Taking Bribes in Test-Referrals Scheme with New Jersey Clinical Lab
NEWARK, NJ—A physician with a practice in New York admitted today to accepting over $100,000 in exchange for test referrals as part of a massive bribery scheme operated by Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services LLC (BLS) of Parsippany, N.J., its president and numerous associates, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Michele Martinho, 39, of New York, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler in Newark federal court to an information charging her with one count of accepting bribes.
According to documents filed in this and other cases and statements made in court:
Martinho admitted that from September 2010 through April 2013, she accepted bribes of $5,000 per month in cash in return for referring patient blood specimens to BLS, for which BLS received more than $350,000. Martinho accepted approximately $155,000 in bribes.
BLS salesman Kevin Kerekes paid the cash bribes to Martinho. Kerekes pleaded guilty to his involvement in the scheme on June 10, 2013.
The bribery count to which Martinho pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for July 8, 2014. As part of her guilty plea, Martinho agreed to forfeit $155,000, representing the bribes she received from BLS.
Including Martinho, 27 people—including 16 physicians—have pleaded guilty in connection with the bribery scheme, which its organizers have admitted involved millions of dollars in bribes and resulted in more than $100 million in payments to BLS from Medicare and various private insurance companies. The investigation has recovered more than $7 million to date through forfeiture.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Aaron T. Ford in Newark; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Thomas O’Donnell; IRS–Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Jonathan D. Larsen; and inspectors of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, under the direction of Inspector in Charge Maria L. Kelokates, with the ongoing investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Minish, Senior Litigation Counsel Andrew Leven, and Jacob T. Elberg, Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark, as well as Assistant U.S. Attorney Barbara Ward of the office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman reorganized the health care fraud practice at the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office shortly after taking office, including creating a stand-alone Health Care and Government Fraud Unit to handle both criminal and civil investigations and prosecutions of health care fraud offenses. Since 2010, the office has recovered more than $535 million in health care fraud and government fraud settlements, judgments, fines, restitution, and forfeiture under the False Claims Act; the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; and other statutes.